After training through what has been an unseasonably cool spring, runners were granted a reprieve from the rain, clouds and dampness at the 13th annual Wapack and Back 50-mile, 43-mile and 21.5-mile trail races on Saturday, May 11, in Ashburnham, Mass.
After starting by the glow of headlamps at 5 a.m. at Mt. Watatic State Park, runners of the ultramarathon distances soon ditched their lights and endured the direct sun of a mostly clear day where the temperature rose into the 70s.
For those running the 50-mile race, the course included a full out-and-back of the Wapack Trail from Ashburnham to North Pack Mountain in Greenfield, N.H., and then back to Ashburnham, as well as an extra seven miles at the end. That added up to around 11,000 feet of vertical gain, much of it on rocky terrain.
Runners hoping for 50 miles had to complete the first 43 within 12 hours to be allowed to continue. This year’s race made history in that regard as 19 runners – a Wapack and Back record – completed the 50-miler.
The top three overall finishers completed the race in less than 11 hours. Jason Smith was the first to do so. Smith, 28, of Bath, Maine, built upon a strong finish to 2018 that included a win at the Jay Peak 53.1K in September in Vermont and a fourth-place finish at the Big Brad Ultras 50-miler in October in Maine, by earning his first win of 2019 at Wapack and Back. Smith’s time of 10:00:43 put him 34 minutes ahead of runner-up and Traprock 50K champion Joffrey Peters, 34, of Lebanon, N.H., who finished in 10:34:34. Peter Keyo, 36, of Canton, Conn., rounded out the men’s podium in 10:55:22.
Finishing close together for fourth and fifth were Chad MacDonald, 32, of New Boston, N.H., and Doug Hsu, 38, of West Roxbury, Mass. MacDonald – the third-place finisher of the 50-miler in 2016 – completed this year’s race in 11:28:30, followed moments later by Hsu in 11:28:37.
In the women’s race, Danielle Triffitt turned a glorified training day for the Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run into her first victory of the season. Triffitt, 44, of Topsham, Maine, overcame the rocks, the climbing and the sun and finished in 13:11:51. Wendy Price – a Wapack and Back veteran who was third in the 50-miler in 2016 and won the 43-miler in 2014 – was the runner-up as the 51-year-old from Jaffrey, N.H., finished in 13:33:00. Lorena Duquette, 42, of Berlin, Mass., rounded out the women’s podium in 14:08:04. Duquette finished the 50-miler for the second year in a row.
While the 50-miler was the main event, another 26 runners were credited with 43-mile finishes for successfully running outbound from Ashburnham to North Pack Mountain and then back to Ashburnham within 14 hours. The first to complete the round-trip journey was Ed Cullen. The 31-year-old from Rumford, R.I., set a new course record for 43 miles, winning in 8:06:16. Jack Bailey set the previous record of 8:38:20 in 2015. Baily, 40, of Medway, Mass., finished third this year in 9:49:09. Marek Telus was the men’s runner-up as the 43-year-old from Hopkinton, N.H., finished his Wapack debut in 8:53:43, good for the fifth-fastest time in course history.
Finishing just outside the podium but breaking the 10-hour mark was Art Beauregard. The 41-year-old from Framingham, Mass., was six minutes behind Bailey in 9:55:01.
Top honors in the women’s 43-mile race went to 36-year-old Kara Olivito of Medford, Mass. Olivito already had victories at the Cape Cod Trail Race 50K and the Double Top 100K to her credit this year, and she added a third on Saturday in her Wapack debut within a winning effort of 10:22:15, good for a women’s course record for 43 miles. Kimberly Wrate, 22, of New Hartford, N.Y., secured the second spot on the women’s record board with her runner-up finish in 11:24:00. Sharon Knorr, 35, of New Castle, N.H., rounded out the podium in 12:01:04.
McInerney Defends 21-Mile Title
In addition to the ultramarathons, 55 runners completed the 21.5-mile, one-way journey from North Pack Mountain back to Ashburnham within nine hours, conquering technical trails and earning 4,600 feet of vertical gain along the way.
A familiar face took top honors in the men’s race. Jonathan McInerney has taken part in the 21.5-mile race in seven of the past nine years, and he has steadily worked his way up the ranks since finishing 21st overall at the 2011 event. McInerney earned top-10 finishes in 2013, 2014, 2016 and 2017 before breaking through and winning the race outright in 2018 in 3:11:51. His time that year was the second-fastest in course history. McInerney didn’t go quite as fast in 2019, but the 29-year-old from New Ipswich, N.H., still held off the rest of the field to win in 3:23:25. Fifteen minutes later, 39-year-old Iain Ridgway of Grantham, N.H., secured the runner-up spot in 3:38:10, followed by Brandon Baker, 32, of New London, N.H., in 3:46:03.
Meanwhile, a race newcomer earned the victory in the women’s race. Kat Schuller, a 32-year-old from Decatur, Ga., had a memorable performance in her Massachusetts debut, placing sixth overall and winning the women’s race in 4:21:55. Her closest competitor, 35-year-old Marta Walkowska of Mendon, Mass., finished 12 minutes later in 4:33:31, followed by 21-year-old Bailey Guiunn of Windsor, Vt., in 4:51:03.